Housing Development Board (HDB) chief executive Cheong Koon Hean is among the members who form the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) that was convened in August. The formation of the committee, which will decide how to alter the current boundaries of electoral wards, marks the first formal step towards the next election.
Besides Dr Cheong, the committee includes Secretary to the Prime Minister, Tan Kee Yong, Singapore Land Authority CEO, Tan Boon Khai; chief statistician from the Statistics Department, Wong Wee Kim; and Elections Department head Koh Siong Ling.
As HDB CEO, Dr Cheong serves as Singapore’s chief planner. In April 2018, Dr Cheong earned the ire of Singaporeans after she indicated that the value of aging HDB flats will decline over time, as she spoke at a forum organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).
Contrary to the government’s past promises that HDB flats are ‘nest eggs’ that grow in value over time, Dr Cheong advised members of the public to pay a price for resale flats that is commensurate with the balance lease: “You should buy a flat, as you say it commensurate with the lease. The price you pay should commensurate with the lease. As you should buy a flat that would last you a lifetime.”
Her remarks went in line with National Development Minister Lawrence Wong’s warning a year prior that the vast majority of flats will be returned to HDB, without any compensation for homeowners, when the 99-year-lease runs out.
The views of the current National Development Minister and the HDB CEO were a jarring reality check to countless homeowners who had mistakenly believed that the value of their flats will keep rising over time – even property agents were not immune to being hoodwinked by the asset enhancement promise.
A property agent brought this up at another IPS forum and asked Dr Cheong for her views on HDB flat resale prices, which has increased over the generations, while resale flats are now viewed as a “ticking time bomb”. Dr Cheong declined to answer.
Dr Cheong also drew criticism when she said that Singapore’s population density would increase from 11,000 people per sq km to 13,700 people per sq km between now and 2030. Her remarks prompted Singaporeans to express unease that the population size could go up to nearly 10 million by 2030, according to the figures she cited.
HDB later clarified that the figures cited by Dr Cheong was on Singapore’s living density, not the nation’s population density, and that it would be “inaccurate” to divine population size from the living density figures presented by Dr Cheong.
At the same forum where she refused to answer the property agent’s question on resale flat prices and asset depreciation, Dr Cheong also declined to answer a question on what underlying principles and philosophies guide her planning process with regards to population density, since she may not work in a vacuum without input from policymakers.
This week, presumptive future prime minister Heng Swee Keat asserted that the EBRC is independent and that it is not politically motivated when he was asked about the committee having to report to the Prime Minister.